In anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia last month, a unique work of art was commissioned in the grotto next to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. This public art installation, “Mary, Undoer of Knots,” consisted of thousands of strips of cloth on which people, including many who were homeless, had written their struggles and prayers, their hopes and dreams. Through my work at Project HOME, an organization dedicated to helping Philadelphia’s homeless population and a sponsor of “Mary, Undoer of Knots,” I was able to visit the grotto several times. While there I assisted people who came from all over the country and the world to write down their struggles in the hopes that their burdens would be eased.
Before I started at my service site in August, I had expectations of helping to undo the knots of hunger and homelessness. I had imagined how I would help the people living on the streets and use Project HOME’s resources to improve their lives. Two months into my yearlong commitment I find myself reevaluating the way in which I measure my impact. As I learn more about the realities of life on the streets and the challenges associated with Philadelphia’s shelter system and subsidized housing programs, I try to focus on the small interactions which, while not necessarily life-changing, are what get me through the day. For most of the people I see, change will not be immediate. It may take months or years for some of them to get off the streets. While the big problems might still be knotted, I will continue to work toward undoing the ones I can. I have come to see that, whether it’s a bottle of water, a ride to a shelter, or just a friendly conversation, these small gestures help make the road out of homelessness a little easier.
Katherine Herold: Project Home, Philadelphia, PA